Evaluating the Use of Technology - Absent Presence

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Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series that will examine the subtle effects that the use of technology brings to bear in our daily lives. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1Co 10:31).

Absent Presence
The committee meeting is in session; the chairman asks for any other items that should be on the agenda. John is present, but at the moment he is texting one of his employees about a work related question. He has an item that should be discussed but he misses the chairman’s question and the meeting goes on. John is a “present absentee.”

Samuel smiles as he sits down beside his friend George from a distant congregation. Today they are riding a bus to New York City to do street evangelism. Samuel hopes to catch up on news from the past half year. But after some small talk, George gets a text message from his friend. He laughs a bit and replies to his friend. The texting goes on while Samuel waits, wondering if he is George’s friend anymore. Samuel is experiencing the “absent presence” of George.

Technology has brought a whole new world of communication to us. Many forms of this communication are very useful. But does a new invention disannul the rules of courtesy, politeness, and responsibility? Are we the master of our tools, or have these gadgets become our masters? as Christians, we must guard against the misuse and abuse of modern technology.

Cell phones have a way of invading our privacy, interrupting our visits, and taking our time away from other important things. Texting is especially challenging since it can be done quietly while supposedly involved in other activities.

A youth can sit at home by the fire place with their family but be texting friends across the continent. While the family visits and shares stories from the day, he is present but yet he is absent. Father’s advice, direction, and council can go unheeded since his mind is many miles away. A rebellious youth may even sit texting his rebellious friends about his father’s funny ideas and the chiding he’s getting right now. If this is happening, his rebellion will only grow worse.

A young man once told me he turns to texting his friends when he feels “out-of-place” at a gathering or service. It is his way of “zoning out” when he feels uncomfortable. He admitted he feels popular to have people see him connected with all his friends via texting. In this way texting is used to avoid people, and to run away from the social challenge of making new friends and reaching out to others.

As fathers we must give direction to our youth about these things. Texting should not interfere with family worship. We should not allow our youth to be playing the “absent presence” game during important family times. When we go visiting, attend family gatherings, or attend other social functions we should make sure our youth are blending with others and learning face-to-face social skills. They should learn to make new friends, play games, tell stories, etc. Sad it is when our youth can relate better to others via text than they can in their presence with normal visiting. It is important for us to build good friendships and maintain them. We must show our friends how much we honor and appreciate them by not allowing distractions to take us away from them. We should learn how to turn off phones for important events. Or we should politely ask to be excused for a minute if we feel we should answer our phone or respond to a text. A simple explanation of what the call was about, helps to honor the person we had to be excused from for a minute.

We should not be using our phones while in a church service. They are best left at home or in the car. In the case of emergencies, we should go out of the church building to respond to a call or a text. Possibly some farm situations may involve a phone dialer to call and alert the owner of a problem. Sometimes phones are used to allow someone to listen in to a service. In all of these legitimate cases, caution must be taken to not detract from the sacredness of the service. Texting someone while sitting in church, or texting someone in the same service should be strictly avoided! If we allow ourselves to start that practice we will find ourselves swallowed up in the snare of “absent presence” in God’s house and God will not smile on us!

We should carefully evaluate our level of responsibility when we are part of a committee meeting. How much is it acceptable to be “out on the phone?” Is it respectful of other’s time if the meeting is held up by the necessity of responding to some call or text? Is it possible today to actually have people wait on us until we are done?

Imagine a salesman coming to your door to sell a product and needing to use his phone as much as some of us do. Picture yourself waiting while he texts another client and answers some questions. Sure you know he is a busy man and has lots of people to see. but you expect a level of commitment to yourself just as he expects you to buy from him. In much the same way, we expect something from each other as we work together. God help us to honor the golden rule in our relationships. May we be wise enough to know how to control our phones and use them as our servants and not serve them. May we ponder the fact that there will be no “present absentees” on the Day of Judgment or gathered around the great white throne praising God for
all eternity.
~Fredericksburg, PA
February 2012